Friday, February 26, 2010

Our Little Engineer

Vinny is incredibly observant, and curious about his surroundings. Every day when I drive him to his preschool, he asks me something new about the car. First he wanted to know what that blinking arrow on the dashboard was. So I told him about turn signals. Then he wondered what I was holding in my right hand, so I told him about the gear shift. He was pretty excited to learn that the car had gears.

He's also curious about things around the house. He asks me multiple times every day to tell him about how electrical outlets work. You know how sometimes people freshly in love want to hear their partner tell them how much they love them, over and over again? Well, he asks about electrical outlets with the same breathless excitement.

I take a great delight in telling Vinny about how all these things work. I try to explain it within his vocabulary, and I think he understands. He really enjoys discovering new things and I enjoy sharing those moments with him.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

By the Book

At bedtime, I read Vinny three books every night. Last night, I was reading him a book and his hand was obscuring one of the words. It was a book I'd read him a zillion times, but I was sure I knew what it said, so I didn't bother to move his hand.

Turns out that I knew what it meant, but I said a synonym of the actual word on the page. Vinny quickly corrected me with the proper word. I had to laugh that the person who can't yet read was correcting the one who can read.

He's really close to reading, but not quite there yet. He can read certain words, like "off," "stop," and "exit," and he can rattle off all the letters he sees on the page in sequence. We've been encouraging him to sound out words, and I think they're working on his reading in preschool too, but he doesn't quite have it yet. I think he will have it figured out very soon, though.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Violins and Fungi

Did you ever wonder what beautiful violin music and fungi had in common? No? Why not?

As it turns out, scientists treated wood with fungi to see if they could create wood similar to the wood that Stradivarius used to create the violins that today go for millions of dollars. Please read this article about it, written by a high school student for more details!

Thursday, February 18, 2010

For ScienceGirl

Blogfriend ScienceGirl is about to embark upon a new journey in her life: she and her husband are about to have their first child! This exciting news is tempered by the fact that she and her husband have only recently moved to the place where they live, and don't have much of a network of friends yet. This means that they're not having a baby shower, and will have to depend mostly on themselves when the baby comes.

I unfortunately don't live close enough to help out (otherwise I'd be inviting myself to come help like I did for my sister et al. in December!), but at the suggestion of blogfriend EcoGeoFemme, we are holding a virtual baby shower/blog carnival for ScienceGirl. Hopefully our words of support will be good for something.

ScienceGirl, I'm privileged to know you not just through the internet but also in real life! I know that you will be an excellent mother and you probably don't need any of my help in doing so. Still, I hope that my experience will be of help to you. I would like to offer you two pieces of advice -- two themes, if you will, that have helped me make it through the journey of motherhood so far.

The first is "This, too, shall pass." The immense pain of childbirth? Lasts on the order of hours. The sleep deprivation? Doesn't last forever. The temper tantrums? They'll go away as she matures.

On the other hand, it's not just the bad things that pass. Before you know it, your Baby Girl will be sitting up, crawling, then walking. She'll become more and more independent with every passing day. And she'll be too big to cuddle in your lap before you know what happens. So you need to savor the moment -- watch her explore those new-found things called hands, enjoy the groans and sighs of ecstacy as she drinks that milk, and caress that soft, soft skin and those tiny little fingers.

There will be moments that you miss. I missed my son's first crawl, because I had to go to bed early so I could go to work. You may get jealous of her other caregivers, and this is understandable. But remember this: at the end of the day, nobody can compare to Mama. You will be loved by your daughter more purely, more fiercely, than she loves anyone else. Enjoy her, and your time with her, in the moment -- because this too shall pass.

The second thing I'd like to talk about is what it means to be a good parent. You don't try to get a Ph.D. in Science from a Prestigious Institution of Higher Learning if you're not ambitious and somewhat competitive. Making comparisons between yourself and others, and striving to be Better than others may work okay in an academic environment* -- but when it comes to parenthood, it does not. You will never be the Best Mother in the World; you can only strive to be the best mother you can be.

First, comparing your parenting, as measured by the outcome of your child's development, to others' will only serve to get you into trouble. "So-and-so's kid walked at 10 months, and mine had just started crawling then" -- so what? Different kids develop at different rates; one person's kid developing skills earlier than another's is not a referendum on their parenting skills, or on the quality of your child. Certainly, there's something to be concerned about if your child doesn't pick up these skills, but there is such a wide range of developmental curves, that in 99.9% of all cases, there's nothing to worry about.

Second, being overcritical of your own parenting actions is counterproductive. This is not to say that you should never examine your actions, or be critical of what you've done. But it is counterproductive to punish yourself over mistakes that you've made.

Examine your history and your behavior patterns, and know your vulnerabilities. For example, I tend to yell out of anger, because that's how I was brought up. Do your best not to be triggered into doing the undesirable behaviors by learning what it is that pushes that button. (In my case, it's when I am drawn into a battle of wills -- plus sleep deprivation, stress, hunger, etc.) Then, avoid getting into that situation. (I try to redirect rather than directly confront disobedience -- with the exception of immediate dangers like running out into the street -- which works much better than imposing my will on him ever could. I also try to keep myself healthy to avoid the second set of triggers.)

You won't always succeed. I have barked at my son more times than I would have liked, but it's okay. I've transformed those situations from failures to learning experiences by figuring out what triggered me, how I can avoid that situation in the future, and (most importantly) apologizing to my son for my unacceptable behavior. Our children use us as role models, and modeling grace and humility in the face of a mistake is one of the best ways we can help them deal with their own inevitable mistakes and frustrations.

But love yourself enough to know that even in that dark moment, you had only the best of intentions. Create a plan of action, forgive yourself, and move on. Get some help (from family and friends, or from an expert) if you need it. Just believe in yourself confidently enough to know that you are growing and maturing even as an adult, and that you are and will continue to mature into the best parent you can be.

ScienceGirl, I am so happy for you and I'm looking forward to someday meeting your little one. Please know that I'll be thinking positive thoughts in your general direction as you get adjusted to life as a mother, and that I'm only a phone call away.

* I find this assertion debatable, but that is a subject for another post.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Feeling Blah

One problem with sending Vinny to preschool is that he's picked up some bugs from his classmates, which he in turn shares with us. In other words, he's the world's cutest disease vector.

So far he hasn't been sick enough to miss school (with the exception of one day that turned out to be a snow day), and I haven't been sick enough to miss work, but just sick enough to feel kind of blah. (Jeff, on the other hand, has really gotten it a lot worse than we have.)

My throat is kind of sore, just sore enough to be annoying. My head is kind of congested, just congested enough to be annoying too. It's not enough to pull out the cold medicine, but just enough to keep me from feeling my best. I imagine that Vinny is feeling the same way. Hopefully his immunities will build up and we'll stop picking up bugs from Typhoid Vinny.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Math is Lucrative... Let's Be Computer Engineers!

I am pretty excited about the fact that Barbie's 126th career is Computer Engineer. I'm with blogfriend PhizzleDizzle, I'm happy that Barbie is becoming one of us. I'm more of the old school nerd than Barbie (or PhizzleDizzle, for that matter!) -- fashion is really not my thing. I might wear the shirt Barbie's sporting but only if it came in a looser cut, and even then, not to work.

The best thing about Computer Engineer Barbie, from my perspective, is that she's showing girls that they too can succeed in computer science. Computer scientists don't have to be male, they don't even have to be nerdy -- they just need to have an interest in computers/computing and follow their passion.

I for one am looking forward to the day that Barbie comes and installs our next supercomputer. In the meantime, I might just have to preorder her and display her prominently on my desk when she arrives late this year.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

This Week's Headlines

If there were a newspaper boring enough to find me newsworthy, here might be some of the articles you could read:

Local Woman Still Recovering from Business Travel
Could use about 24 additional hours of sleep

Roomba Great Source of Entertainment for 3-Year-Old
Floors cleaner than ever

Computational Scientist Breaks Yet Another Compiler
'Not another bug report to file,' complain exasperated system administrators

World's Best Second-Rate Mathematician Gets Some Work Done this Week
Rare opportunity for work arises during two days without meetings

Mother and Son Have Dinner out at Area Restaurant
Father attending meeting

Area Woman Still Running Three Times a Week
'Thank goodness for my mean running coach,' she says

Monday, February 08, 2010

Business Travel

Last week I was on business travel to our nation's capital. Now, as you all know, I hate travel, especially when it's business travel and not vacation travel. This was going to be a pretty long trip: leave home on Monday, return Friday night, and I was not feeling too happy about it. To make the trip more palatable, I arranged to have dinner on Wednesday night with one of my cousins who lives in the area.

As it turned out, a gigantic snowstorm was making its way towards the area. The meeting was shortened and we were to finish up on Thursday rather than Friday. Because of that, the organizers moved some sessions from later in the week to Wednesday night. To preserve my sanity, I skipped those sessions and had dinner with my cousin as originally planned.

The last question was, how to get out of there before the blizzard struck. On Wednesday, my airline was not letting people change flight plans without paying $800 for the privilege. So I called my work's travel agency and they reserved me a rental car (1/4 the cost of changing flights). I had two other friends in the same boat with the same airline, so driving home seemed both economical and doable. But just before we picked up the car, we thought we'd try one last time person-to-person at the airline counter. The folks at the counter had more of an incentive to let us change -- they were the ones who'd have to deal with us on Friday after our flights were canceled. So they agreed to change our reservations for free. We got home Thursday afternoon safe and sound, more than a day earlier than originally planned, and several hours earlier than I had anticipated based on driving.